In the 1950s, NBC aired a show called the Adventures of Hiram Holliday. The titular hero was a geeky, Coke-bottle glasses-wearing newspaper proofreader. I’m not kidding.
Holliday’s adventures kick off when he’s sent on a trip to see the world by his grateful publisher after Holliday saves the paper from a $500,000 libel suit by inserting a comma into an article. While traveling the world, he transforms into an unassuming, all-knowing star who, as I noted in my book, appears so frail at times that “You half expect him to die from a common cold, only to suddenly see him thwarting Nazis in the name of a distressed princess, or saving the entire American naval fleet while searching for the lost consonant of the Hawaiian Islands.”
When I first discovered him, I thought Holliday was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of hero. Imagine a current-day network building a series around a copy editor or—ha!—a magazine fact checker. Preposterous.
Well, this week, NBC began airing a eight-part Web series entitled FCU: Fact Checkers Unit. It’s based on a hilarious short film that you can watch on FunnyOrDie.com. You can go here to watch the first three roughly six-minute webisodes, which feature guest stars such as Luke Perry and Karolina Kurkova. Future episodes will feature Jon Heder and Alex Trebek, among others.
“Focus on the fact, not the supermodel!” one checker admonishes the other in the Kurkova episode. (The series is also something of an experiment in product placement, as a Samsung phone features prominently on the Web site and in each episode.)
The series focuses on a pair of magazine fact checkers at the fictional lad mag Dictum. They stop at nothing to check even the most mundane of facts, including spending the night in the same bed as Perry. All the while, they tussle with an ornery writer who hates them, a blogger who torments them by posting manifold inaccuracies, and an editor who cares more about bedding one of them down than getting articles checked.
Earlier this week, I spoke with the three series creators: Peter Karinen (who plays Russel the checker), Brian Sacca (who plays Dylan the checker) and Daniel Beers (who is the director). We spoke about the similarities between their fictional checkers and the real world, and I gave them a pop quiz about checking facts.
I’m wondering if one of you had a specific experience with a fact checker or fact checking? How did the idea for the short come about in the first place?
Peter Karinen: We started off thinking wanted to do some sort of spoof of CSI or those procedural dramas that are on TV and are all pretty much exactly the same, and Brian came up with the idea for the fact checkers unit. I think he just thought it was a funny name … I had a friend who used to be a fact checker for GQ magazine and she didn’t really have very many hilarious stories, so we kind of had to come up with the exciting part of the job ourselves.
Daniel Beers: I also wrote some pieces for Vanity Fair, like some really dumb little blips, and they had the fact checkers call me at one point and I thought that the job was so weird. The thing I was writing was about movies and one was Fever Pitch and the fact checkers called me and they were like, “How do you know the movie is about the Red Sox?” … I had one friend that was a fact checker and she was twenty-four at the time and a couple of people [she worked with] were older—they were in their forties and fifties—and she said they were so intense at all times about everything. That was one of the details she grabbed [from the experience].
PK: So, yeah, basically Dan was interrogated rudely by a fact checker and that’s the inspiration for the short. Forget everything I said.
So there was no actual field research—no going into one of the big magazines and saying, “We need to see how the fact checkers work”?
PK: That’s the real beauty of doing comedy—we don’t have to do any research or verify that anything is actually real; we can always just make it up. When people say, “That never really happened,” we can say “Yeah, well, this is comedy.” It’s definitely one of the perks.
DB: On that note, what’s funny about it is that we didn’t do any real research—we just made it up as we thought it would be—and people came up to us and said, “Oh my God, it’s just like that.”
Brian Sacca: So, basically, we just instinctually knew how fact checkers work and we nailed it.